Three days after the universally panned Love Story 2050 was released, its makers, Adlabs and Harry Baweja, put out a huge ad in the newspapers saying, “All-India opening weekend gross Rs 10,64,92,166.” Impressive figure, indeed. Only, those in the know wonder how it was arrived at.
“The one time Bollywood loves touting numbers is when it wants to pull the wool over people’s eyes,” says trade analyst Amod Mehra caustically. “They can claim what they want to, but the truth is that Love Story 2050 is a flop.”
Adlabs-Baweja aren’t the only players in this desperate game of calling a dud a hit. A few weeks earlier, two other moviesâ€”Yashraj Films’ Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic and Priyadarshan’s Mere Baap Pehle Aap, both of which the trade says had dismal collectionsâ€”also took part in a similar exercise. “Desperation dictates these moves,” says another trade analyst.
The malpractice has become a regular feature in Bollywood. This year, only five films out of 118 have been genuine hitsâ€”yet, every week you have screaming advertisements in newspapers with gross figures or beachside hoardings proclaiming also-rans as blockbusters.
Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, who admits he is not above such tactics himself, says that film-makers are uncorking the bubbly in such a tearing hurry because they have to create the perception of a hit. “Sometimes the hype carries a film through, most often not,” he says. “But it’s a chance people in showbiz take. All film business today is deciphered by how good the first weekend has been, and so film-makers go to desperate lengths to drive home a point. In the words of an American producer, â€˜Sell your mother; kill your wife; but make sure you get me my initial weekend collections.’â€
What saves producers in India is that one cannot call their bluff. A trade insider explains that all Bollywood figures from the silent era to Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na are at best approximations since there is no online system like the ones in UK/USA where the exact box-office figures are clearly monitored.
“Single screens have never been upfront about collections,” says a producer, adding that some theatre owners, especially those in smaller towns, actually put in rows of extra chairs. “This way they sell more tickets, pocket the money and the producer is none the wiser. The producer has to just take home whatever the theatre owner gives him. Whenever there is a cash component involved, there’s huge misappropriation of funds.”
According to a Mumbai theatre owner, one does not have to go as far as mofussil areas to witness the kind of cheating that takes place. “Even in places like Thane there is completely ambiguity on the percentage of entertainment tax collected,” he says.
What about the multiplexes, where there was supposed to be far more transparency? “Yes, transparency was expected,” says Mehra. “But since most plexes are on a tax holiday, even they don’t submit DCRs (daily collection reports) to the authorities. No one knows how many tickets are actually sold. So there is no way anyone in Bollywood can monitor exact collection figures.”
Another facet of the My Film Is A Hit hoax is that Bollywood conveniently publicises the gross collections rather than the nett ones. An insider explains that a gross figure paints a rosy picture, but the reality is that the distributor only takes home a small part of it. “That small part is the only figure they should be advertising,” says Mehra. “If you notice, all advertisements, without exception, conveniently carry gross collections.”
So, what is the structure of the gross figure? Nearly 40 per cent goes into taxes and surcharges; and from the remaining 60 per cent, the exhibitor takes away 48-52 per cent. The rest is what is called the distributors’ share. After this explanation, one hardly need emphasise that there is very little truth in those printed advertisements.
Ironically, it’s not the public that’s taking umbrage at the exaggerated figures party. Some distributors are also seeing red. Recently, when a producer proclaimed that his â€˜political’ film was a hit, a leading distributor sent him a legal notice, saying, “Please don’t put up hoardings over the city proclaiming your film is a hit. I know how dismal the figures are. If you continue with your charade, I will be forced to sue you because otherwise I’ll have the income-tax officials at my doorstep.”
After all this, will the next producer/distributor put up an advertisement with gross figures? Of course he will. Check the newspapers on Monday, and this time you can call his bluff.